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Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Lesson from Rock

So my band played a reasonable gig on the weekend, but we struggled in one main area. We have a couple of "core" songs that we have been playing forever - and we feel like we know them really, really well, but on Saturday night they completely bombed making us sound like bigger amateurs than we already are! The thing was that we also played some completely new songs - songs that we'd never played in public before and those ones went over really well - like we'd been playing them for years.

It's not like the "core" songs are really hard, they're not, it's not like we don't practice them, we do, it's not like we don't enjoy playing them, we do - It's more about the level of attention and concentration that we apply to them. When it gets close to midnight on a long Saturday it's really easy to mentally relax when we get to one of the "core" songs that we feel like we know backwards. The result is that we get lost in the song - was that the first chorus or the second? Is the bridge now, or next time? What note does that riff start on?

The other thing that becomes really evident is how reliant on each other we really are (although nobody cares to admit it). A small miss-placed drum fill, guitar lick or vocal ad-libbed in a live situation can really throw out the rest of the guys in the band - did that mean that he thinks we've already finished the bridge when we only just started? It doesn't take much to send the other guys off on a completely different course - even with the best of intentions.

Last week the same thing happened in the office (my day job of course - Beermogul doesn't have an office!). We execute complex software releases, unusual developments, subtle product enhancements, manage external contractors and negotiate large commercial agreements on a regular basis, but we came completely unstuck sending out a simple email announcement to our customers - a "core" activity that we've done a thousand times, one that is incredibly simple. We mentally relaxed on the simple task and completely bombed!

In an effort to increase our productivity after a recent pep-talk the manager involved played things a little different - "We need to do things fast if we're going to survive in this commercial world". By turning up the heat he hoped to drive his team a little faster, but things went off the rails with the wrong communication going out to the wrong group of recipients. A simple mistake but a painful one.

The lesson? Hmmm, pretty obvious I guess - concentrate on the "core"' activities, and don't let yourself mentally relax just because the job is a simple one because that doesn't mean it's not important.

Oh, and don't drink too many beers before you go on stage! (I knew I'd get a Beermogul link in somewhere.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Creating a Balance

One of the areas where Beermogul excelled was in it's ability to be played in less than 3 minutes a day. Players could put in a small amount of upfront effort (10-20 mins), then their properties could look after themselves - a small amount of maintenance every now & then was enough to keep things running along (perhaps one of the most attractive elements of the game). The emails that were produced every three days reported on progress, and drew players back to the game (traffic stats closely followed the email distribution schedule).

The downside of this was a lack of game depth. If players wanted to invest more time they would struggle to find things to do and get bored (usually resulting in malicious activities!).

OK, so before I can continue talking about this I need to make an announcement...


We're working on a rebuild of the game in more modern technology. How will we overcome the problems that led to the downfall of the original version? We'll give you more information on that later - oh, and we want your input on it too.

One of the things we're looking to do with the rebuild of the service is to add more depth to the game without sacrificing the simplicity of the original. How are we going to do it? We're not really sure! While the first release is likely to be very similar to the old game (in terms of functionality), we've got some ideas about how we'll add more depth and variability, but we want your input to work out if we're on the right track.

Here are some of the things that we're thinking about...

  • Geography: Users will be able to decide where their property is going to be located. Property will vary in price based on attributes such as population density, average income etc in order to introduce more in-game variability.
  • Brewers are special: In the original game anyone could become a brewer at any stage - all they had to do was to purchase a brewery which was about the same cost as a pub. That's not really how things work in the real world - there tends to be a lot more pubs than there is brewers. Under this proposal there would be a strictly limited number of brewers (say 5 per 10,000 pubs). Brewery owners would not be allowed to own pubs, but would obviously have a lot more potential to earn money than a pub owner. Brewers would be a kind of "super user", but with power comes responsibility - they would be governed by a special set of rules (one of the most obvious is the need for regular participation - without this brewing licenses will be revoked).
  • The Beermogul Plus Pack: Want to unlock special new and unusual features, properties and designs? By purchasing a Beermogul plus pack players could unlock new game elements and receive some cool BM merchandise at the same time (OK so I'm trying to sneak a bit of a commercial model in here too).

We'll reveal more of our ideas as we get closer to launch, but this should be enough to keep everyone busy for a while (feel free to provide your feedback via comments).